The Kremlin-backed strongman leader of Chechnya has lashed out at accusations that the Russian republic has tortured and killed gay men, and denied even the existence of homosexual men in his region.
Ramzan Kadyrov, in an interview with a U.S. television channel HBO, said those who have accused Chechen authorities of torturing gay men are "devils" who should be damned.
"This is nonsense. We don't have those kinds of people here. We don't have any gays,” Kadyrov claimed in excerpts from the interview posted online on July 14.
“And if there are some, please take them to Canada. Praise be to God, take them far from us so we don't have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them," Kadyrov added, without elaborating on his mentioning Canada.
After an initial report in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta on April 1 that said gay men in Chechnya were being rounded up, tortured, and killed, several media outlets, including RFE/RL, spoke to Chechens who have fled the alleged abuse.
One gay man told RFE/RL that he spent 10 days in a secret jail, being beaten and humiliated and tortured with electric shocks.
In a report on May 26, Human Rights Watch said it had confirmed that police in Russia's Chechnya region tortured and humiliated dozens of gay or bisexual men during the spring of 2017 in "an apparent effort to purge them from Chechen society."
Chechen authorities have denied the reports.
"They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people. God damn them for what they are accusing us of," Kadyrov said when asked whether he is concerned by reports citing statements by young men who say they’ve been tortured.
Security forces controlled by Kremlin-installed Kadyrov have been accused of gross human-rights abuses for many years, including abductions, torture, and killings.
One of the unsolved cases is that of Natalya Estemirova, renowned for her writing and activism on human rights abuses in the North Caucasus. Estemirova was kidnapped in Chechnya and found dead in the Ingushetia region of Russia exactly eight years ago -- on July 15, 2009.
Neither Estemirova's killers nor those who may have ordered her kidnapping and murder have been brought to justice, prompting the U.S. State Department on July 14 to once again call on Russia to find and bring to justice the people responsible for her death.
Kadyrov also said in the interview that the United States is too weak to be an enemy of Russia.
"We have a strong government and are a nuclear state,” Kadyrov said.
"America is conducting a policy against Russia, against the country's leadership," he added.
"They know that I'm ready to give my life for Russia and that I have a good army capable of attacking and defending. We’ll see how things go for everyone.”
The interview was conducted by HBO Real Sports reporter David Scott, who went to Grozny to film a feature on Kadyrov's mixed martial arts progam.
The full program will be aired on July 18.
With reporting by HBO, TASS, and Outsports.com